A new face to Bul­gar­ian wine is emerg­ing

The China Post - - LIFE -

In the early 1980s Bul­garia was the world’s sec­ond largest pro­ducer of wine. In­ter­na­tional va­ri­eties had been in­tro­duced in the 1960s to re­place tra­di­tional grapes, and most wine was sold as cheap plonk to the Soviet Union.

The state-owned in­dus­try de­clined af­ter the end of the Cold War in 1989. From the early 1990s state-owned winer­ies be­came pri­va­tized, some at­tract­ing over­seas in­vest­ment or Euro­pean Union sub­si­dies, which led to ma­jor im­prove­ments.

The plains around the Danube River and the Black Sea re­gions are the main ar­eas for vines, though the Thra­cian Low­lands, Rose Val­ley and Struma Val­ley also pro­duce re­spectable wines. Many vine­yards are on the same lat­i­tude as cen­tral Italy or south­ern France sug­gest­ing the cli­mate can pro­vide good con­di­tions for viti­cul­ture.

Sev­eral cen­turies be­fore Christ the Thra­cians wor­shipped the Greek wine god Diony­sus — Thrace was be­lieved to be his home. Ev­i­dence of Thra­cian tra­di­tions in wine pro­duc­tion and con­sump­tion can be found in mag­nif­i­cent trea­sures con­nected with wine such as gold goblets.

A tast­ing in Lon­don in late March re­vealed much about the re­nais­sance of Bul­garia’s wine in­dus­try. We be­gan with a hand­ful of whites. Three in five bot­tles pro­duced in Bul­garia are red wines.

The 2013 Bratanovi tami­anka had an in­tense aroma rem­i­nis­cent of ripe gewurtz­traminer with a touch of ries­ling. Tami­anka is bet­ter known as mus­cat blanc and has tra­di­tion­ally been used for grappa dis­till­ing. It would be a good aper­i­tif be­cause of its lively flo­ral notes and dry fin­ish.

Caro­line Gilby MW said the Bratanovi es­tate pro­vides a good ex­am­ple of the changes in the in­dus­try since the end of Com­mu­nism. The fam­ily orig­i­nally had a 1ha vine­yard be­cause most vine­yards were small­hold­ings, but over time the fam­ily had ac­quired 24ha and all wines are es­tate grown. Gilby first went to Bul­garia in 1989 as a buyer. “Un­der Com­mu­nism bulk wines were mostly poor and the link be­tween the wine­maker and grape grower was bro­ken.” The coun­try has a min­i­mal wine cul­ture but Gilby said she had noted a ris­ing in­ter­est in wine in re­cent years. “The smaller wine­mak­ers with their own land have a pas­sion for wine and it shows in what they pro­duce.”

Some crit­ics be­lieve chardon­nay has po­ten­tial in Bul­garia. The 2011 Ros­sidi chardon­nay is un­oaked and fer­mented in egg-shaped con­crete ves­sels that al­low sub­tle lev­els of mi­cro-oxy­gena­tion. This wine had rich fruit yet fin­ished dry and clean with a slight touch of salin­ity.

The 2013 Ivo Var­banov Clair de Lune chardon­nay is classy with good depth of fla­vors, the re­sult of deft wine­mak­ing. Var­banov is a con­cert pi­anist as well as wine­maker and names his wines af­ter mu­sic. Of all the chardon­nays tasted it re­minded the most of white bur­gundy. The rich fruit and tex­ture sug­gest a wine that will im­prove with time.

The 2013 Borovitza chardon­nay had a most un­usual color of gold-or­ange, ob­tained it seems from the skins. It is fer­mented in old 3,000 liter bar­rels and has a slight tan­ninic edge with hints of or­ange pith. This is a unique chardon­nay that would ap­peal to peo­ple who pre­fer un­usual Old World wines.

For many years Bul­garia could not es­tab­lish a par­tic­u­lar wine style. But that has changed in re­cent years with a re­turn to tra­di­tional grape va­ri­eties, al­most all of them red. Gamza — the Bul­gar­ian name for Hun­gary’s kadarka — is sim­i­lar to pinot noir and comes from the cooler north­west and cen­tral north re­gions close to the Danube River. The 2013 Borovitza gamza orig­i­nated from vines more than 40 years old and had vi­brant acid­ity. A sharp tan­ninic edge sug­gested a wine that needs food.

The tra­di­tional va­ri­ety of mavrud has the po­ten­tial to be­come Bul­garia’s flag­ship grape. It gets its name from the Greek word for black, and is mostly grown in the Assen­ov­grad re­gion. The 2013 Bratanovi mavrud was grown near Plov­div, one of the 10 old­est con­tin­u­ously-in­hab­ited cities in the world. It has charm­ing acid­ity and soft tan­nins.

The south­west is the warm­est cor­ner of Bul­garia and is home to the mel­nik grape, named af­ter the town of Mel­nik. It tastes like a Rhone red, though un­like Rhone reds mel­nik is re­port­edly dif­fi­cult to grow. The 2011 Villa Mel­nik red of­fered juicy fruit with ro­bust and rich fla­vors; the kind of wine that needs food.

The ru­bin grape is a hy­brid of neb­bi­olo and syrah cre­ated in Bul­garia in the late 1940s. It is grown through­out the south and eastern parts of the coun­try where it is made into dark red wines. The grape used to be made into sweet wines ex­ported to the Soviet Union. The 2013 Ros­sidi ru­bin had a slightly harsh tan­nic edge com­pen­sated by earthy tones and a touch of sweet­ness de­spite a dry fin­ish.

Some of the other in­ter­est­ing wines were mostly Bordeaux blends. The 2009 Eo­lis is a mix of mer­lot, caber­net franc and caber­net sau­vi­gnon that showed pre­ci­sion in the wine­mak­ing. The 2011 Or­belus Prima was made of caber­net sau­vi­gnon, mel­nik, mer­lot and pe­tit ver­dot from an or­ganic es­tate. It was pow­er­ful with a qual­ity mouth­feel. The 2008 Sin­tica was a blend of caber­net sau­vi­gnon, mer­lot and caber­net franc. It had a clas­sic Bordeaux nose and tasted de­li­cious.

Also at­trac­tive were a 2013 Villa Yustina pinot noir whose wine­maker Vasil Stoy­anov spent three years in New Zealand and re­turned with good ideas. It tasted more like Cen­tral Otago than Bur­gundy. The 2008 Sin­tica Ex­plo­sion is 100 per cent caber­net franc. It’s a gen­er­ous wine with a sa­vory nose of ba­con and Vegemite and soft tan­nins.

The new face of Bul­gar­ian wine is ex­cit­ing. What is the way for­ward: Should they fo­cus on in­dige­nous grapes or Bordeaux blends? Prob­a­bly both.

Bul­garia mainly ex­ports to Rus­sia, the Czech Repub­lic and Poland, though China is emerg­ing as a sub­stan­tial mar­ket. Stephen Quinn writes about wine for a va­ri­ety of pub­li­ca­tions in the re­gion. From 1975 he was a jour­nal­ist for two decades with the Bangkok Post; BBC-TV, The Guardian, ITN, the UK Press As­so­ci­a­tion; TVNZ; the Mid­dle East Broad­cast­ing Cen­ter in Dubai and a range of re­gional news­pa­pers in Australia. Dr. Quinn be­came a jour­nal­ism ed­u­ca­tor in 1996, but re­turned to jour­nal­ism full time in 2011. He is based in Hong Kong and is the au­thor of 17 books.


( Right) A girl blesses her­self with the Holy Fire af­ter the cer­e­mony of the Holy Fire on the Easter ser­vice in the Monastery of Caves in Kiev, late on Satur­day.

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